Home Remedies for Managing Breast Pain

Breast pain (mastalgia) can occur in anyone with breast tissue; even men can have breast pain. Women may start experiencing breast pain at puberty, and it's also common during menstruation, pregnancy, and even menopause. Whether you have pain in both breasts or in one breast, there's no need to panic—as breast pain alone is uncommon with breast cancer. That said, breast pain that is new, different, or persists, should always be evaluated by your doctor.

Hormonal changes, weight gain, or benign anatomical changes within the breast may cause pain. Let's talk about the meaning of different types of breast pain and what home remedies may bring you relief. 

Focus on the Details of Your Breast Pain

woman with breast pain

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Before you can get relief for your breast pain it's important to try to figure out what may be causing your pain. Once you have an idea of the cause it's much easier to choose the best type of treatment.

Breast pain can be sorted into two major types: cyclical and non-cyclical breast pain. Cyclical pain varies with where you are in your menstrual cycle whereas noncyclical pain does not.

Cyclical breast pain fluctuates with your hormone levels and is the most common type of breast pain. Non-cyclical breast pain is often related, instead, to internal anatomical changes, such as an injury, surgery, infections or growth of large breast cysts.

Finally, there is pain that occurs just beneath your breast in bones, muscles, or nerves. Pain beneath your breast can be just as worrisome as pain within your breast, so please know that all these pains should be properly diagnosed and treated.

Get Relief For Cyclical Breast Pain

Cyclical Breast Pain and Menstrual Cycle
What treatments work for cyclical breast pain?. Art © Pam Stephan

Women who are still having a menstrual cycle are much more likely (but not always) to have cyclical breast pain—in fact, roughly 70 percent of American women report having periodic breast pain. If you have this type of hormonal breast pain, there are many ways to get relief.

Track Your Pain

Understanding cyclical breast pain is much easier if you keep a journal of your breast symptoms over the course of a few months. Track your menstrual cycle and compare it to your breast pain levels. Bring this record to your breast pain appointment.
If your pain is due to swelling, try a support or sports bra. Lose weight if you can, to take the load off your back and breasts. It's surprising how taking off even just five pounds can sometimes substantially reduce the pain for women with cyclic breast pain.

Diet

Eating a healthy diet is also helpful. Eating a low fat diet may improve your symptoms. Some people find that cheese and wine can worsen their symptoms of cyclic mastalgia.

Heat and Cold

Try alternating hot and cold packs when pain peaks and won’t fade away. Some people find that taking an anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil (ibuprofen) is helpful, but swallow these with a non-caffeinated drink.

Caffeine

Some studies suggest that caffeine may worsen cyclic breast pain, while others do not. A 2016 study, however, found that caffeine intake could greatly exacerbate symptoms. Try limiting your intake of coffee, tea containing caffeine, and chocolate during the time in your cycle when you experience pain.

Stress

Lower your stress levels through stress management techniques appears to reduce breast pain for some women. And, as has been found with a multitude of conditions, exercise does appear to help with breast pain.

Tobacco

If you smoke, quit. Smoking can worsen pain for those with both cyclical and non-cyclical breast pain.

Holistic practitioners sometimes recommend evening primrose oil, but talk to your doctor before using this supplement. Primrose oil should not be used in pregnancy and may increase bleeding time.

Available by prescription only, ​the medication Centchroman can be helpful for women who have pain that is not controlled by home remedies alone.

Home Treatments for Non-cyclical Breast Pain

woman relaxing in bathtub

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Pain that is not related to your hormonal cycle may occur in both breasts or in only one breast. It may be sharp or dull, but is often located in one specific area referred to as a trigger zone. Non-cyclical breast pain may be caused by an injury, surgery, or the growth of benign breast lumps. It may also be due to clogged milk ducts or an infection, and sometimes it is caused by tension and stress.
For bruises or surgical scars, try hot or cold packs, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin. If cysts or fibroadenomas seem to be the problem, ask your doctor whether you could take some evening primrose oil or vitamin E. Call your doctor if your nipples are infected. Some alternative practitioners recommend a hot soak in the tub with lavender oil if stress is a factor in the pain.

Professional Help For Pain Beneath Breasts

female doctor talking to female patient
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Just beneath your breasts are your chest wall muscles, rib cage, spine, heart, and lungs. Aches and pains can come from inflammation of chest wall cartilage, arthritis in the breastbone, and bronchitis. Muscles in your back and chest may be strained and pull against bones, sometimes causing soreness or sharp pains. When these pains happen close to your breasts, it can be very hard to pinpoint their location. Try taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin for the pain, and if it does not respond, then call your doctor for a breast pain appointment. You may need antibiotics or further testing to diagnose and treat the cause of your pain.

It's also important to point out that, on occasion, women may feel heart-related pain in their breasts. It's fairly well documented that women often have "atypical" symptoms of heart disease, such as fatigue, nausea, jaw pain, or even breast pain as their only sign of a heart attack. If it feels like there's a chance that your pain is deep to your breasts, don't hesitate, and call your doctor.

Treating Breast Cancer Pain

Older woman checking prescription with cell phone

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Breast cancer does not often cause pain, but it can. Treatments for breast cancer such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation may also result in pain.

In metastatic breast cancer, pain may be caused by cancer cells in bones, nerves, or organs. This can be relieved by targeted radiation as well as pain medications and bone-modifying therapies prescribed by your oncologist. Holistic therapies, such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, meditation, and guided imagery, may help alleviate pain, but always talk to your doctor before using any nutritional supplements as some of these can interfere with cancer treatments.

Bottom Line:
No matter what kind of pain you’re having, discuss it with your healthcare team and get help. You don't always have to suffer!

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Article Sources
  • Genc, A., Celebi, M., Celik, S. et al. The Effects of Exercise on Mastalgia. The Physician and Sports Medicine. 2017. 45(1):17-21.
  • Kasper, Dennis L.., Anthony S. Fauci, and Stephen L.. Hauser. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: Mc Graw Hill education, 2015. Print.
  • Eren, T., Aslan, A., Ozemir, I. et al. Factors Affecting Mastalgia. Breast Care. 2016. 11(6):188-193.